Like the lightning storms that lashed out in a valiant last hurrah it was all over in a flash.

A staggering storm front seemed to be mounting on the horizon for weeks. You could smell it in the electric blue air before you could see the ink black vapors gathering in violent puddles over the mountains. 

Over there, and far away, towering columns of black rain blurred the blaze orange vectors of each burning sunrise. Underfoot the earth cracked and choked from thirst everywhere that water did not pool. Most of the side streams had all but run dry, their banks perforating and crumbling under the crushing hoof of emptiness.

So it seemed fine that the rains would come. There was still plenty of time to do all the things that need to be done. All of the low hanging fruit was long gone even if it seemed the squash would never die. With fresh pulses to recharge the river and rusty leaves already showing in the woodlands, perhaps it really was time to reevaluate the crosshairs of priorities and opportunities. 

And then the winds came without warning in the night. Invisible and silent they snuck up like a slap in the dark and insulted in the same way, too. Pushing those pounding bands of rain in as a headwall the winds leveraged soggy wet branches against gravity to snap off the old arms of unsuspecting maples.

It was all over in the shell shocked silence of the morning. Tired birds chirped sheepishly before muting themselves. Their tune didn’t feel right while evidence of fall lay scattered in every direction. Leaves and limbs, and birds nests, and refuse and all things once forgotten tossed to the four corners and caught up on barbed fence lines. Only the orchard trees stood taller. Relieved of the compounding weight of their high hanging fruits, their sunburst were orbs cast like big bang planets upon the grassy space below.

Stooping to pick up the pieces it occurred to the bumbling farmer that the change in season meant we’d soon be exchanging blackberries for pumpkins and wasps for spiders. It didn’t sound like a fair trade, to be totally honest, but he was certainly glad to be rid of the pesky yellow jackets and hornets that always seem a little more ornery than usual this year.

Pausing to contemplate a future of pumpkin spice and musty wool socks he plucked an earthbound golden apple from the tall grass. As he moved absentmindedly to take a bite the hidden side suddenly came to life with wasps tumbling angrily out of the forbidden fruit. One particularly irritated wasp wasted no time on a warning shot or a fly by. Instead, it cut an acute course for the offending face and plunged its stinger deep into the puckering lip of one bitterly disappointed and howling hayseed.

As his lip expanded and began to sag like overdue udders he laughed because he knew that nothing lasts forever. It’s just that he’d momentarily forgotten that nothing gold can stay.

FISHIN’

While internet famous cougars have taken up most of the talk around Blue Creek over the last week and a half anglers have continued to their steadfast pursuits, even if it has made the bank anglers a little nervous.

“They’ve all been talking about it,” said jig-and-twitch Jeffery at the counter of the Barrier Dam Campground bait shop on Thursday in regard to a video that surfaced last week showing four cougars loitering around a river bend.

While the cougars didn’t catch any fish during their five minutes of fame, both bank and boat anglers have been fairing a little better.

“All the silvers are coming in and the steelhead are still here,” added Jeffery as he presumably restocked the shelves with cougar repellent for the city folks. “Shrimp eggs and prawns for silvers. Sand shrimp and blue fox for steelhead. At least that’s what they’re buying.”

According to WDFW survey stats the bite was most productive below the I-5 Bridge where 46 brave bank rods kept one coho and two coho jacks while releasing a Chinook jack. Thirty-three boats with 86 rods kept another eight coho and three silver jacks while releasing 83 Chinook, 23 king jacks, 12 coho, 14 silver jacks and three steelhead. Up in cougar country just below the barrier dam 19 bank rods released two Chinook while one boat with two rods had no catch at all.

At the Cowlitz Hatchery salmon separator last week crews retrieved 102 coho adults, 31 silver jacks, 96 fall Chinook adults, six fall king jacks, 48 summer steelhead, one steely jack, 11 cutthroat trout and 10 spring Chinook. Fish handlers then trucked nine coho, three silver jacks and three spring Chinook to the Cispus River near Randle. Another dozen coho, two silver jacks, three spring kings and two cutthroat trout were deposited released at the Franklin Bridge in Packwood. Meanwhile, the Tilton River received 43 fall Chinook, 30 coho, 20 silver jacks and one cutthroat at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton. 

River flow below Mayfield Dam was reported at 2,510 cubic feet per second on Monday with water visibility of 14 feet and a temperature of 53.8 degrees. As always, Tacoma Power wants the public to remain vigilant on the lower Cowlitz because they release water from the dam as they see fit. That reminder is especially topical now as they lower the elevation of Lake Mayfield to 415 feet through the end of the month. All boat launches will be inoperable during that time and the shoreline is closed.

On the Lewis River last week 45 bank anglers kept one Chinook, two coho, three silver jacks and one steelhead while four rods on two boats kept two coho, one silver jack and released one Chinook. Two anglers on the Elochoman had not catch to show.

The mainstem Columbia has been producing the most hungry coho for anglers near the mouth of the Cowlitz River. The lower Columbia silver salmon fishery is currently open from Buoy 10 to Bonneville but Chinook and steelhead retention is off limits until the end of the month.

On Sept. 16 the Chehalis River between Elma and the Black River opened up to fishing under permanent rules. That means gamefish are now open to anglers all the way down to the mouth of the river. On Oct. 1 the river will open up the rest of the way on the mainstem and the South Fork. The Skookumchuck River will follow suit on Oct. 16. An emergency closure was announced early in the summer and a staggered opening was designed to relieve pressure on low numbers of returning spring Chinook.

HUNTIN’

A pheasant hunt in the Woodland Bottoms has been canceled abruptly due to a transfer of land ownership that caught the WDFW off guard.

“We recently became aware that the Port of Woodland acquired a portion of the Woodland Bottoms pheasant release site,” said Kessina Lee, WDFW southwest region director, in a press release. “Because the Port does not allow any hunting on their property, we must cancel the Woodland Bottoms unit hunt until further notice, and no birds will be released at the site.”

Pheasant hunts were set to open on Sept. 21 for youths, and Sept. 23 for senior citizens and disabled hunters. The general season was set to open on Sept. 28. Those seasons will still continue in all unaffected areas including the Lincoln Creek and Kosmos release sites in Lewis County. 

“We know that this is a difficult situation for our pheasant hunters,” added Lee. “The department is looking at options to continue to provide pheasant hunting opportunities in our region.”

The latest round of hunting prospects have finally been released by the WDFW just in time for the upcoming year of openings.  

“The department’s district wildlife biologists compiled these popular reports to serve as a resource for hunters,” said Anis Aoude, WDFW game division manager, in a press release. “The Hunting Prospects contain a lot of useful information and provide a good place to start planning your season whether you’re an experienced hunter or a beginner.”

State wildlife managers are indicating that 2019-20 could be a good bounce back year for game populations as they rebound from a harsh winter back in 2016-17.

“Weather is the key factor that is impossible to anticipate. Hunters will have a first chance on local birds until the northern birds are ushered into the state from Alaska and Canada by low pressure weather systems,” noted WDFW waterfowl manager, Kyle Spragens, in the release.

The Saturdays of Sept. 21 and Sept. 28 are reserved for youth-only waterfowl hunts, with the first taking place in western Washington and the second taking place east of the Cascades. Ducks, including scaup, coots, along with Canada and white-fronted geese will all be legal fodder during that hunt. It’s important to remember that hunterse in Goose Management Area 2 — Coastal and Inland including Clark, Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, Pacific, and Gray Harbor counties — must fill out harvest cards for any geese harvested.

In depth prospect reports for all regulated species in Washington can be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/locations/prospects.

Bow hunters are still out and about in search of black-tailed deer through Sept. 27 in most areas. However, GMUs 510, 513, 516, 520, 524, 530ad, 556 and 506a, 550, 560, 572 are all set to close on Sept. 22. After that it will be the muzzleloader toters who take to the woods. Those black-tailed hunts will run from Sept. 28 through Oct. 6 in all open GMUs.

While the early western elk season for archers came to a close on Sept. 19 there are still elk out in the great wide yonder and plenty of opportunities still ahead. Musketeers are the next in line for elk in western Washington with a season set to run from Oct. 5-11. With some of the best elk hunting grounds in the state located nearby the state is asking the public to keep an eye out for elk showing signs of hoof disease. In order to help limit the spread and impact of the malody officials are asking the successful hunters to sever and leave behind the lower leg portion of any harvested animal at the kill site. Additionally, any elk with hoof deformities should be reported to the WDFW and any harvested elk with a neck collar should also be reported. According to WDFW stats some of the most successful areas for elk hunts in southwest Washington include GMU 520 (Winston), 506 (Willapa Hills), 530 (Ryderwood), 550 (Coweeman), and 560 (Lewis River).

Forest grouse and crow season began in early September and will run through the end of the year. Additionally, the general turkey season began on Sept. 1 in GMUs 101-154 and 162-186 with a limit of two beardless turkeys and two of either sex. GMUs 382, 388, and 568-578 will open up Sept. 28 with a limit of one turkey of either sex.

Cougar season will continue through at least the end of the year. Cougars are most common in the remote timberlands of eastern Thurston and Lewis counties due to large deer and elk populations, but sometimes they like to hang out by the Blue Creek boat launch, too. The Skookumchuck unit (667) dependably has the highest cougar harvest in the district. Bear hunts will continue through Nov. 15.  

Additionally, bobcats, foxes, raccoons, cottontail rabbits, and snowshoe hares will be fair game until March 15. And, it’s always important to remember that the anvil never falls on coyote season in Washington.

CLAMMIN’

The first razor clam digs of the season are now less than a week away, so long as marine toxin tests return with passing marks. Those season opening digs are tentatively scheduled for the Long Beach peninsula where diggers were largely deprived of opportunity last season.

The first set of digs are proposed for the following dates and morning low tides:

  • Sept. 27, Friday, 5:52 a.m. -0.9, Long Beach only

  • Sept. 28, Saturday, 6:36 a.m. -0.8, Long Beach only

  • Sept. 29, Sunday, 7:19 am -0.6, Long Beach only

No digging will be allowed after noon during those digs with low tides in the morning. A heap of additional digs spread out along Washington’s coastal beaches have also been proposed through Dec. 29. Unlike past years the tides did not cooperate this year for the popular New Year digs.

All diggers age 15 and up are required to possess a fishing license and each digger is limited to 15 clams per day. No high grading is allowed and all diggers must dig their own clams and keep them in a personal container.

SHRIMPIN’

Shrimp fishers had their options dwindle this week when the WDFW moved to close several areas in Puget Sound to spot shrimp harvest. The recreational fisheries in Marine Areas 4 (east of Bonilla-Tatoosh line), 5, and 6 (excluding the Discovery Bay Shrimp District), all closed on Sept. 16.

In a press release the WDFW explained that the closures are intended to protect egg-bearing female spot shrimp. However, non-spot shrimp fisheries will remain open through Oct. 15.

RECLOCATIN’

An effort to relocate the mountain goats around Mount Ellinor and Mount Washington in the Olympic National Park to the Northern Cascades has been deemed successful by the agencies involved with 22 animals safely removed in all.

According to a press release from the WDFW, this year removal efforts resulted in the translocation of 101 mountain goats in total. That haul brings the total number of mountain goats successfully removed from the Olympic peninsula since Sept. 2018 to 275 animals.

The roundups this year also resulted in the deaths of seven adult mountain goats during capture, plus four mountain goats who were lethally removed when they could not be safely captured. Ten kids were transferred to the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park when they were separated from their familial herd. The wildlife park will wind up keeping one mountain goat with nine others slated for dispersal to zoos. So far 16 young mountain goats have already been relocated to zoos.

During capture the animals are immobilized and then blindfolded and placed in slings before being helicoptered away.

“We were very fortunate to have a long stretch of good weather in August which enabled us to safely catch mountain goats throughout the Olympics and make good progress towards reaching our translocation goals,” said Dr. Patti Happe, Wildlife Branch Chief at Olympic National Park, in a press release.“Many thanks to all the volunteers and cooperators, including several biologists and former National Park Service staff who came out of retirement to assist with the project.” 

Mountain goats are a non-native species on the Olympic peninsula but do have native range in the Cascade Mountains. Another round of removal and relocation is planned for next summer. The Mountain Goat Management Plan released by the National Park Service in May of 2018 states an intention to remove an estimated 725 mountain goats in all.

MEETIN’

The WDFW has scheduled a set of public meetings in order to discuss and take comment on proposals that would simplify fishing rules for numerous species around the state.

The proposals include:

  • Changes to daily limits, size limits, and areas for scallops, urchins, and sea cucumbers;

  • Updates to align bottomfish regulations east of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line with regulations west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line; and

  • Numerous clarifications and updates to language for existing regulations.

Area meetings will be held at the following locations:

Olympia: 5 to 7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 25, at the Natural Resources Building, Room 175 A and B, 1111 Washington St. SE.

Mill Creek: 5 to 7 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 26, at WDFW’s Mill Creek office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd.

The commission will also take public testimony on the proposals during its Oct. 18-19 meeting in Olympia. A complete copy of the proposals, and an outlet to submit comments, can be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/season-setting The public can comment on the proposed rules at the meetings or online through Oct. 17.

If approved, those regulation changes could be implemented as early as next year.

COMMENTIN’

Anglers could see bag limits for bass, walleye, and channel catfish removed entirely if the instructions of House Bill 1579 are followed by the WDFW.

That states that the WDFW should “adopt rules to liberalize bag limits for bass, walleye, and channel catfish in all anadromous waters of the state in order to reduce the predation risk to salmon smolts.”

The intent of the bill is to protect salmon populations by removing known predators and competitors in order to put more food on the table for endangered Southern Resident orcas. The bill also includes updates to freshwater regulations.

The public will be provided opportunity to comment on the record at the following area meetings:

Mill Creek: 6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 24, at WDFW’s Mill Creek office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd.

Olympia: 5 to 7 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 26, at the Natural Resources Building, Room 175 A, 1111 Washington St. SE.

Ridgefield: 6 to 8 p.m., Monday, Sept. 30, at WDFW’s Ridgefield office, 5525 S 11th St.

A full copy of the proposals as well as a format to provide comment can be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/season-setting/. The public can comment on the proposed rules at the meetings or online through Oct. 17. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission also will hear testimony on these proposals during its Oct. 18-19 meeting in Olympia.

CELEBRATIN’

Next Saturday the Tacoma Sportsmen’s Club will host a celebration of National Hunting and Fishing Day in conjunction with the WDFW.

“This family-oriented event is a great way to introduce youth to target shooting, hunting, fishing, and conservation activities,” said David Whipple, WDFW hunter education division manager, in a press release.

That hubbub will be held at the Tacoma Sportsmen’s Club in Puyallup. Attendees will be able to take in educational displays and participate in hands-on activities that include trout fishing, fly tying, rod and reel casting, flint knapping and tracking practices. Youths with a guardian will also be able to take part in shooting sports including archery, pellet guns, rifles and shotguns provided by the WDFW.

“This is a great opportunity to receive training, guidance, and encouragement from certified Hunter Education Instructors, Master Hunters, and Range Safety Officers,” added Whipple. “Youth will also meet with staff and volunteers from the department’s Hunter Education program, to learn the importance of hunter safety.”

The event is slated to run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 28 at the Tacoma Sportsmen’s Club, 16409 Canyon Rd E, Puyallup.

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